Crypt of the Damned, 28mm, Dungeon Crawl, Module, 3D Tiles, moss

Crypt of the Damned – a Soul Shattering Tutorial Part II

The undead were diligent and not only completed a degree in interior design, but also branched out into botanics! In Part I of this tutorial we created the basic layout of the Crypt of the Damned module consisting of the rock walls, rough-hewn stone and dirt floor.

In this part we will focus on adding vegetation, such as roots, moss, mushrooms and floor and wall  creepers. Once again I will provide the reasoning behind my design choices, a list of all materials needed and detailed step-by-step instructions.

Some thoughts on caves

While Skyrim is a good inspiration, it is not necessarily a very realistic rendition of a cave’s ecosystem. Unfortunately I am not an expert in this field and had to go by some web resources, common sense and the “Rule of Cool“.

First we have to consider that any green plant needs at least some light to allow photosynthesis. Thus the cave needs at least a light shaft or air shaft to allow seeds, spores and sunlight to enter. We also need a humid environment to allow the growth of moss and mushrooms. While the former dislikes direct sunlight and prefers shady, humid environments the latter does not rely on sunlight, but needs water to thrive.

Time for some reference pictures for moss:

wpid-photo_1.jpeg
Moss growing on a dead tree trunk. Photo: Author.
wpid-photo_3.jpeg
The same tree trunk, but a change in the moss texture. I am not sure if it is another kind of moss or just a patch that yet has to grow. Photo: Author.
wpid-photo_2-1.jpeg
The mossy stone is another good reference, as it is closer to the effect we want to achieve. Photo: Author.

Tree roots obviously do not need sunlight and can be a good opportunity to indicate where openings to the surface are, or where the cave ceiling got penetrated. It also makes sense that the roots would attempt to grow into the dirt floor or cling on moist walls, while changing their direction of growth when confronted with the solid rock floor.

This dictates some design choices:

  • The soil may not look too dry in areas where moss or mushrooms dwell.
  • In addition any plant life dependent on sunlight needs to be grouped around the openings to the surface.
  • The roots – if possible – will cling to walls and grow either into soil or make their way over the rock floor to find a suitable substrate.

With these guidelines in our head onwards to the construction process!

What you need – nature finds a way

For the mushrooms:

  • Thin malleable wire or alternatively steel pins for the mushroom stems.
  • Any air-drying modelling putty to form the mushroom heads and cover the stems (Liquid greenstuff works well, but I don’t see any reason why the much cheaper alternative of Golden Acrylic Gels e. g. Soft, Heavy Body etc. should not do the same).
  • Fast setting glue to attach the head to the stem.
  • Acrylic paints. If you go for psychedelic fantasy mushrooms any colour suits. I went for more natural colours like brown and off-white. GW Agrax Earthshade comes in handy, too, or any dark brown wash for that matter.

For the roots:

  •  Malleable wire with different gauges to  form thicker and thinner roots.
  • Golden Acrylic Medium matte to cover the wire and improve adherence.
  • Wood filler to cover the sealed wire and achieve a wood like surface texture.
  • Brown and beige acrylic paint (can be cheap stuff) and GW Agrax Earthshade.

For weeds, moss and wall creepers:

  • MiniNatur Ivy and different grass tufts. I used  a selection off autumn grass tufts.
  • Matte spray varnish to reduce the shine of the static grass. I use Tamiya Flat Clear.
  • Brown acrylic spray paint, to slightly darken the tufts.
  • Fine turf e .g. Woodland Scenics range of fine turf in dark green or any other fine turf. This is basically very finely ground coloured foam.
  • Wood glue.
  • Dark or medium green, yellow and beige acrylic paint. GW Agrax Earthshade.
  • Water.

Tools needed:

  • Brushes of various sizes to apply paint and wood glue. Old bristle brush for dry brushing.
  • Sculpting tools.

    A selection of sculpting tools. The ball tip is quite good to smooth the clay and to make organic looking indentations. The needle tip I used for carving the brick pattern.
    While the ball tip comes in handy to form the mushroom heads, the needle tip is perfect for forming the lamella.
  • Wire cutter.
  • Hand drill.

How you make it

The mushrooms:

  1. Cut as many pieces of wire as you need mushrooms. The wire should be slightly longer than the actual stem, so that you can drill a hole and insert the wire later on, fixing it securely to the module.
  2. If you use metal pins shorten them slightly, but keep the part with the pin head.
  3. Bend the wire slightly, so that the stem will not be absolutely straight, resulting in a more realistic appearance.
  4. Stick the wire in a piece of styrofoam, with the future stem section poking out.
  5. Cover the stem with liquid greenstuff or a comparable product.
  6. Using a small ball of modelling putty form the mushroom head. depending on the kind of mushroom you would like to depict this can be a flattish head, a tapering head or more like a spherical shape. Don’t forget to add some lamella on the underside of the head with a needle or sculpting tool. For the module I made three different kinds of mushrooms differing in size and shape.
  7. If you use a steel pin and would like to depict very small button mushrooms you can just cover the pin head with some putty and leave it at that and save yourself step eight.
  8. After everything has hardened glue the head on the stem.
  9. Painting time! Basecoat and paint your mushrooms. Any colour is possible in a fantasy universe or stick to some reference pictures if you prefer a realistic look. I used dilute paint for this step to achieve smoother transitions and finished it of with a wash of Agrax Earthshade.
  10. Remove the mushrooms from the styrofoam block, drill a hole where you want to place a mushroom and glue in place.

Mushrooms

The roots:

  1.  Cut as many pieces of wire as you need roots. The wire should be slightly longer than the actual root, so that you can once again drill a hole and insert the wire later on, fixing it securely to the module.
  2. Just as with the mushrooms stick the wire in a block of styrofoam.
  3. Cover the wire with Golden Acrylic matte medium. This step is very important to assure that the other layers will adhere to the wire. The acrylic gel is slightly flexible after drying and also provides some “tooth” for the succeeding layers.
  4. After the acrylic medium is dry mix some wood filler with beige acrylic paint and water, just so that you achieve a consistency you can easily brush on. Given that the wood filler is white you might need more paint than you expect.
  5. When the filler is dry, cover with Agrax Earthshade. In my opinion that is already enough to make the roots look the part. You can apply subtle highlights here and there, but on reference pictures such roots look very pale and featureless.IMG_5222
  6. Now you can remove the roots from the styrofoam block and bend them carefully into the preferred shape. This way you can easily fit them to  a wall, a floor section and so on without having to worry about getting paint on the finished parts of the module. This is also why step three is so important. Without it the wood filler will crumble away under your very hands.
  7. As there might be very small cracks or open ends as you have to cut the roots to length with a wire cutter, follow again steps 3 to 5 and cover these parts.
IMG_5179
If you have roots growing over one of the alcoves you obviously have to decide if a skeleton should be placed in there or not. In my case I will add only some small details and leave it as an empty one.
IMG_5206
It is up to you if you place the mushrooms first or the roots. It depends how you would like to place them and if for instance some of the mushrooms are supposed to be placed behind roots.

Floor creepers and moss

  1. Pretreat the tufts and vines with a bit of matt spray varnish and brown spray paint. Really only lightly mist them, don’t overdo it. This way we can reduce the gloss of the static grass and also dull the stark green colour a bit.
  2. Using wood glue or even acrylic medium glue the MiniNatur vines and tufts in place. I assumed there are two narrow light shafts and placed the vegetation only where I imagined light could hit the ground directly.
  3. Drybrush the tufts lightly with beige acrylic paint, just to soften the stark green colour further and take away any remaining shine.
  4. Mix the fine turf, green acrylic paint, wood glue and water to a paste. It needs to be sticky enough to adhere to the walls, but also easy to spread. Don’t worry if the paste looks bright green, it will darken quite  a bit when the wood glue tries.
  5. With a toothpick (a brush is not very suitable for this kind of work) take some of the paste and apply wherever you would like to add some moss. Now spread the paste with the toothpick and press it down.

    IMG_5162
    As you can see the moss is bright green when wet.
  6. When dry the moss is now rock hard and can be easily painted, while providing a nice moss like texture. First wash with a bit of GW Agrax Earthshade, followed by several highlights with succeedingly brighter greens up to pure yellow. Make sure your brush is actually almost dry.
IMG_5205
First the moss followed a more rigid pattern, which did result in an artificial look. In placing it more or less randomly spreading out in all directions a more realistic look can be achieved.
IMG_5204
To depict the moist environment I darkened some areas of the soil slightly and also added some acrylic gloss gel to depict shallow puddles of water. I think I will enhance this effect further.

We finished the basic layout and vegetation, now we need to move on to sacrificial offerings, candles, skeletons in the alcoves and urns in Part III.

IMG_5203

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10 thoughts on “Crypt of the Damned – a Soul Shattering Tutorial Part II”

    1. Thank you! Now “only” a couple more details and the module is finished. I have already some good ideas for other modules, but need to decide if I focus on the Crypt theme first or also branch out into mushroom caves, sewers or crystal caves.

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  1. Beautiful! I really like how you considered all the natural angles for how moss and roots and shrooms might actually form in such an environment. It’s true what you say about Skyrim 😉 if you wanted to mimic that then the final step would have to be coating everything in gloss varnish and putting a heavy bloom effect over your photos!

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    1. No, not the bloom! Ahh, my eyes! I guess they went for a very moist look, but in some of the more arid game environments it does not make much sense. I am not an expert on cave ecosystems, but I am glad if it looks convincing!

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